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Real TV or Fake TV

Published April 11, 2005 in Television
By Beth Rodio | Image property of NBC
The Office The Office
It has become an unfortunately accurate clichéthat reality TV is about as far from real as Charmed. Programs like Survivor and Big Brother have become embarrassing resumes for wanna-be actors and performers. Even Fear Factor (my favorite reality TV show) has succumbed to inevitable and become an hour of titillating T&A and beefcake where, yes, they eat bugs, but they also hop into (or pop out of) a bathing suit at least once an episode.

Go to The Office or House for Reality

So I am never surprised when "real" people looking for a fame fix after their fifteen minutes are over expose the truth about reality TV. What has surprised me lately is the amount of good scripted programs that try very hard to seem like reality.

Everywhere I go people ask me if I watch House, M.D., Fox's medical drama starring the fabulous English actor Hugh Laurie (known to BBC fans as Bertie Wooster or any number of bumbling idiots in the BlackAdder series). When I tell the inquirer that yes, I do watch House, he or she usually responds with more questions like "Did you see those bugs crawl out of her arm?" or "What about that tapeworm?"

What seems to attract people to House on the surface is its Fear Factor-esque gross-out qualities. Every episode promises something either nauseating, terrifying, or (if we're lucky) both. If I keep the conversation about House going after having exhausted the disturbing hooks, however, I find that people are really interested in the medical aspects of the show. The key is that House is a medical drama about medicine and illness, not about George Clooney looking devilishly handsome in his scrubs. House deals with disgusting and convincing situations, not (ironically) obviously fabricated scenarios.

NBC also is attempting a deceptively realistic take on TV with The Office. The Office (which runs at 9:30 on Tuesdays, opposite House which starts at 9:00) is a mock-umentary about an office and is based on the British show of the same title. The American version of the hysterically funny and painfully uncomfortable BBC program, despite its inferiority to the original, speaks to the public's desire to see something more real than "reality." The characters in The Office are far more like the viewers than the cutthroat beauties of reality TV. If The Office performs better than it has promised so far, we might see the characters develop into disturbingly familiar egotists with no self-awareness, as they do in the British comedy. I think I might know some people like that.

I don't know if television writers are attempting to subvert the subversive with their realistic fake TV. I am simply glad that they have offered viewers the chance to enjoy something more real.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Beth Rodio
Sources: Image property of NBC

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